Kent asks, “Pearl, is it?”
He sweeps my bangs aside, undressing my face because every bloated and balding forty-year-old at the Chateau Marmont thinks he deserves a teenager whose breasts haven’t even started to sag.
Ever since my oldest sister, Goldie Lively, starred in this summer's Die, Die, Die—which grossed a billion dollars worldwide, no big deal—so many ass kissers are spilling from her crack that I get some residual smooches here and there.
“I just love your shoe-less hobo look,” Kent says, his voice whistling through his nose job. I look down at my bare feet, frozen on tile. “You really have the arches for it.”
I had been so flustered before tonight’s party, curling Goldie’s limp hair, straightening my other sister Ruby’s ringlets into flat copper sheets, collecting dresses from designers, and reviewing the guest list, that I had forgotten my crocodile pumps on loan from Christian Louboutin. Ignoring Kent I dig for them in my purse. Something in there pricks me. Pulling my hand out I watch a teardrop of blood form on my finger and recall that Kent (pre-nose job) stole Goldie’s virginity and sold the story of their one-night romp to Us Weekly.
Kent licks his lips and asks, “Can I suck your toes?”
I abandon Mr. Nose Job. Never trust a man with rhinoplasty.
Someone clasps their hands over my eyes, “Pearly-Whirly! Guess who?”
Nasal voice. Girlish fingers.
I remove his hands and turn towards Birdboy, whose black curls are slicked back with grease. Goldie, ever the opportunist, had asked me to invite our socially challenged neighbor in hopes he’d bring his bigwig producer uncle—whose film production/digital distribution company motto is no conflict, no interest. Instead, Birdboy’s “plus one” is perched on his shoulder, a parakeet.
“Sandy Bernstein?” I say.
“Present!” Sandy raises his arm so fast his parakeet squawks. “Oh how rude am I? This is my date Chomp. That way if someone asks her name and does she bite, I only have to answer once.”
At fourteen, Sandy Bernstein discovered that one could clone the protoplasts of algae to create mass yields of biodiesel. He's currently the youngest scientist in America fighting climate change, but more importantly he loves to party.
He feeds the parakeet a shish kabob and then bites off a little for himself, “I’ve sampled the catering. The kabob is the empirical winner.”
I’ve got a stabbing feeling in my gut, “Sandy, have you seen Goldie?”
“Oh, she’s in the courtyard beneath Ursa Major.” A waitress passes carrying a tray of shish kabobs. Birdboy chases after her, “Yoo-hoo?”
I find my sisters on the patio, avoiding a dozen or so early guests. Ruby and Goldie are huddled in a cloud of pot smoke under one of the Gothic arches outside. Ruby looks like a red-haired Marilyn Monroe, wistful and wide-eyed, exhaling smoke which rises to a ceiling mural of flying cherubs. Goldie also embodies the elegance of old Hollywood even while sucking on a fat blunt. Her jade green eyes are so bloodshot they look like Christmas. She only smiles in the presence of men, but when she does it's electric. I lift her blonde curls aside. A sapphire vine glitters on her slender neck and the awful feeling in my stomach subsides. Main reason I’m here tonight is to babysit that necklace worth a couple acres in Malibu. My sister’s got two bodyguards from Harry Winston following her, but the Goldie I know will ditch them.
Ruby pulls me aside, nervous. “How come no one’s shown?”
“What do you mean no one?” I smack a short man next to us on the ass.
Danny DeVito turns and smiles, “So, are you ladies happy or are you married?”
“I’m only eighteen,” I say.
“What’s your background?”
“Ish came together nice.” Danny DeVito kisses my hand, which is strangely thrilling. Ruby rolls her eyes.
Across the patio, Goldie chants into an empty champagne glass, “No one. No one. No one.”
Everyone was invited, but even our mom is a no-show. Time to lie.
“They’ll come. It’s only eleven.” Oscar-shaped confetti has fallen in Goldie’s hair and Ruby attends to it like a chimp hunting for lice.
Goldie guzzles the last of her candied-cherry martini, “You like the aerialists?”
I look up. Gilded acrobats fly from a network of steel rods sixty feet above, dumping buckets of custom confetti designed to distract Goldie from her latest mental breakdown.
“God, isn’t it fabulous, Pearl, all my tears have finally paid off?”
Ruby nudges me. I play along, “Yes, Goldie. You deserve it.”
Goldie’s healer—who, for a grand a session, electrocutes my sister with a “spirit machine”—had also recently inculcated Goldie to another cosmic remedy: The Real Secret.
Basically, you imagine what you want in life and celebrate as if you already have it, until you get it. You live smiling in a world of expectant delusion, hoping for the best. Which is why I’m on necklace patrol at an Oscar party in July, pretend-celebrating my sister’s big win, although she hasn’t won anything and the Oscar nominations are six months away.
I jump as an inverted aerialist swoops past me, tethered to the world only by a silver silk sheet swaddled around his ankle.
“Why are the flying monkeys naked?”
“Just the men. The women have G-strings and nipple blossoms.”
Goldie abandons me.
I find Birdboy back inside the dining room foyer standing solemnly before an oil painting of a semi-nude flapper girl. He caresses the painting where an orange parrot is perched on the subject’s shoulder, “The Amazona Amazonica better known as the Loro Guaro. I’m sending an expedition to Trinidad for one.”
Before I can humor Birdboy, we hear the distinct roar of a riot outside.
“They’re storming the Bastille. Come on!” Birdboy grabs my hand and we take off downstairs, out of the Chateau Marmont and face to face with an angry mob churning behind blue velvet rope.
I tap a bouncer on the bulbous forearm and ask, “What’s going on?”
He speaks in a low, robotic voice, “Ms. Lively does not want any guests let in.”
I scan the crowd of faces. I recognize most of them, from movies, TV shows, runways. Faces twisted now with impudent scowls, looking back and forth between their Blackberries and security. These are all Goldie and Ruby’s friends, legitimate invitees, and this walking steroid is telling me that on my sister’s orders, he is supposed to keep them out of a party catered for five hundred; with naked gymnasts writhing on silk ribbons descendent from the sky itself; a symphony-caliber pianist who’ll take requests for anything from Rachmaninov to Elton John; two D.J.s; and so much vintage champagne you could irrigate the Mojave with Krug.
“Let. Them. In.”
The bouncers laugh like they’ve heard that one all night, every night. Their faces drop as I step up to them. I have the same determined eyes as the starlet who cuts their paychecks. They nod to me and lift the holy velvet rope.
The crowd surges past us. Birdboy grabs my hand and we move back toward the party, nearly trampled in the stampede. In the melee I lose Birdboy and he loses Chomp.
Somewhere, a little ways off, I hear him scream something about the parakeet’s appetite.
Goldie is in the hotel foyer, beneath a vase of red and yellow elephant’s ear. Her face drips black with tears and the tiny threads of fake eyelashes. Her foundation is smudged and I can see a bruise on her forehead. Since she turned twenty-three, she’s been banging her head against walls. With each impact, she mumbles a mantra, “Life is over. No Oscar. No Emmy. No boyfriend. Life's over…”
She dropped her champagne glass and claims a shard sliced her baby toe. I inspect her foot through python sling backs, looking for mortal wounds. Nothing. Little diamonds are floating in the spilt champagne. I scoop them up.
“Goldie, you’re leaking diamonds.” I point to the bare spots in her sapphire collar. “Maybe we should put the necklace in my purse.”
Goldie clutches the sapphire rope, “No. I’ll keep it safe.” Her huge green eyes stare off toward some fixed and mysterious point. I don’t prod her because she goes into trances—sees ghosts sometimes she says—and it’s a lost cause trying to bring her back. I guide her to a plush couch beneath a painting of a lake surrounded by birch trees. She looks at the creamy pastels of the painted sunset. “Let’s go there, Pearl, in the painting. Want to?”
“First, let’s get you cleaned up. People are here now.”
“I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“Well, no. I wanted everyone not to get in so they’d think it was exclusive—”
“You paid seventy-five thousand for a party you weren’t going to let anyone into?”
“I don’t know.”
I don’t know is Goldie’s second favorite phrase. Her first is I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
“Goldie, when you give your welcome speech, will you remember to mention saving the honey bees?”
“What’s wrong with them again?”
“They’re massively dying.”
I hear an inhuman screech coming from the courtyard. I smooth down one of Goldie's wayward curls and leave her. Outside, the crowd is collectively transfixed on something I can’t see yet. I push through a wall of people, crawl under arms and squeeze past couples who refuse to separate. Birdboy stands in the center, a naked male aerialist convulsing in front of him. Feathers fly past me, carried on a Santa Ana. Birdboy grabs the acrobat’s naked thighs, “Hold still, sir.”
Birdboy steps aside and I gasp. It’s sick.
I’ve never seen a human penis in real life before, but I’m pretty sure they’re not usually painted gold and flopped upside down with a squawking parakeet attached to the tip. The acrobat’s veins are pulsing in his temples, eyes fluttering, as Birdboy cries out over DJ A.A.’s obnoxious dubstep, “Pearl! Get a kabob!”
Across the courtyard I spot Goldie on an outdoor platform where she’ll give her thanks-for-coming speech into a fancy retro microphone. Ruby hugs her and whispers something. I can’t hear over the din of voices and a bass line so loud it vibrates my bones.
Goldie whips out a compact and covers up the bruise on her forehead again.
There’s no time to console her now. I grab a shish kabob off a waiter’s tray and rush it over to Birdboy.
Birdboy says “Yay!” and waves the kabob at Chomp, “Come on, this is tastier than genitals… Not that I’d know.” And he giggles.
Goldie takes the microphone.
“Hello Los Angeles!”
The crowd faces her. Cheers and hoots.
“Thanks for making it out here so last minute…”
I think, Keep it short, Goldie.
“I wanted to talk about how a girl not so young anymore—” Goldie points to herself, suddenly choking on tears, “how she can lose the reins of her life so fast. How she can be so afraid—”
I mouth the words, Save the bees.
“I know y’all came here for the free booze and the chance of trapping someone richer or more famous than you so you can suck the life force out of them, but I think it’s time to quit hiding.”
Ruby takes Goldie’s arm gently, which only enrages her.
“Psychic vampires! Get out. The party’s over. Life’s over. The life party is over. And remember—”
Goldie gazes up, like a prophet looking for an Are You There God, It’s Me Goldie moment. Just as I think Goldie is going to ascend to heaven, an aerialist twirls down a rope in a pirouette pose and pulls off Goldie’s dress straps, exposing a red letter “B” lipsticked on each naked tit.
“Save the honey bees!” Goldie shouts. “Apparently there’s something wrong with them.”
The crowd is silent. All I can hear is the faint moaning of a fallen acrobat who I figure will probably change careers after tonight. Chomp looks happy, snacking on a shish kabob on Birdboy’s shoulder.
I see a pink-haired girl walking behind Goldie as she leaves the microphone. Ruby is pulling up the dress and straightening the straps. The pink-haired girl pours cranberry juice on the white silk train trailing from Goldie’s gown and then squeezes past the crowd towards the stairs. Goldie doesn’t notice, but Ruby sure does.
“Hey!” Ruby is chasing the pink-haired girl downstairs, running stiff in her borrowed pumps. I follow.
In the foyer, Ruby lunges for the girl’s ankles. They both go down.
The pink-haired girl screams, Nancy Kerrigan-style. I roll her over.
“Do you know how much she has to pay a designer for the damages?”
“Deeply sorry.” The girl’s voice drops an octave as she backs away from us like a sand crab. I see a flash of blue peeking out of her top.
She runs off and hops in a van that seems to have been waiting for her.
“Pearl, did she have an Adam’s apple?”
Goldie struts up to us, “Ready?” Always the first to leave her own party. We hop in our stretch eco-limo. Goldie rubs her neck, “So, how was I?”
On the tip of my tongue: Insane. Blacklisted. Future Golden Globe meme.
Ruby, the diplomat: “You were sassy beautiful.”
Goldie keeps rubbing her neck and it hits me. I ask, “Where’s the necklace?” and all the air is gone from my lungs.
Author photo by Pippa Black